Never a lip is curved with pain that can't be kissed into smiles again.
-- Bret Harte
I knew something was wrong when I flipped back the covers, rose to a standing position, and felt the tightness in my right trapezius, the stiff, residual grip of muscles made tense by a night filled with animated dreams. With a prickle of awareness that matched the pins-and-needles sensation radiating outward from the unreachable spot on my back, I cautiously began my morning routine.After brushing my teeth and winding my hair through a scrunchie without incident, I breathed a sigh of relief -- just a little stiff, nothing to worry about -- and tossed caution away as nonchalantly as I'd dropped my comb onto the bathroom counter a moment before.
In horror movies, it is always after a character relaxes, having determined the cause of a frightening noise to be nothing more than a troublesome cat, that terror chooses to strike. In true thriller form, convinced I was safe from harm, I reached for my socks with one swift jerk of my arm and then froze as the tightness in my shoulder became a pyre of agony, its white-hot flames licking up my neck and down to my elbow. Not good.
Three hours later, David found me sniveling in pain and frustration as I shifted relentlessly on the living room sofa in a futile attempt to find relief. Because I don't scratch my nose without announcing it to my lover, David was well aware that I'd awoken with a stitch in my shoulder, and it was impossible for him to ignore the audibility of my suffering, which seemed to grow with each passing hour. As all of my effort was devoted to escaping the sharp stab that held my upper body captive, I had no energy to muster a graceful mask to hide the unsightly cringe that was my face.
David looked at me in consternation for a few embarrassing minutes, during which I added "pathetic lack of dignity" to my growing list of woes. I assumed when he disappeared to his office that he had been too disappointed by my display of distress to stick around, but he reappeared a moment later and handed me the phone. "I think you should call Dr. Leo. The number's already typed in, you just need to press 'Talk,'" he said.
I took the phone and tossed it on the cushion next to me. "Do you really think he'd be able to help with this?" I shifted and groaned. "GOD, it's just so FRUSTRATING! What's that Mark Twain quip you're always reciting, 'Never underestimate the value of the headache, for when relief comes it's worth a dollar a minute?' Man, this hurts like a bitch. But I'll be fine, I'm sure, I don't need to call anyone; I just slept weird; it's like a kink or something; it'll go away. Just watch."
Four minutes later, I grabbed the phone and brandished it at David like a feral street-kid with a dagger. "Type that number again, will you?" I shrieked. I had never been to a chiropractor, and I was skeptical as to what a bone-cracker could do for what I was convinced was a pinched nerve, but Dr. Leo, whose office in Kensington was in the same building as our old apartment, seemed like a friendly and familiar prospect.
At 6:30 p.m. I was hunched like Quasimodo's illegitimate daughter, waiting for Leo to enter the examination room. Above the trickling water of the fountain in the lobby, I heard several sequences of labored breathing followed by a jarring cracking sound, a brief silence, and then a long moan suggestive of either orgasm or agony, depending on which direction one's mind is more likely to travel.
David sat on a chair in the corner, flipping through the magazine he'd brought with him. I had asked him to come, but insisted on driving -- David's job during the ten-minute trip down Adams Avenue was to look left, as my neck was not allowing me to do so myself.
A friend once told me that all chiropractors were giants, and Leo is no exception. Not long after the last moan, his towering frame filled the doorway and he ambled into the examination room sporting a combination of disarming smile and dangerous disposition that was reminiscent of James Bond as played by Sean Connery.
I quickly learned why being big and strong is an advantage in the chiropractic world -- Leo lifted and twisted, guided and bent, snapped and cracked, and pressed and yanked with his large hands as if I were as light and easy to handle as the little stuffed redhead, Raggedy Ann. David later said it looked as if we'd been playing Twister.
After the third adjustment, my nervous laughter had reached the point of hysterics. It's not that I don't love to snap, crackle, and pop like a bowl of my favorite childhood cereal -- with a flick of my arm I can snap my elbow; a simple turn of my leg and I can pop my knee, ankle, and toe; by doing an old yoga move I learned in a book, I can set my spine straight with an audible crackle; and my knuckles and neck are just as satisfying to correct.
But the shoulder thing was new, and anything new has a tendency to make me nervous. After turning my head to the side with the gentle pressure of his thumb, Leo's hands moved to cover the source of my pain and then, to my horror, he pushed, hard and swift, and, more from surprise than pain, I filled the air with a litany of " Fuck!" s.
With an understanding smile, Dr. Leo advised I soak my sore shoulder in water filled with Epsom salt, as hot as I could stand it. "Your shoulder is going to hurt a lot tomorrow, but then after that you should be feeling much better," he said. I tried to smile, but ended up scowling at the nice doctor who stayed after hours to fit me into his very busy schedule on the same day I called. My scowling reduced to a self-pitying whimper, I thanked Leo, punctuating my gratitude with an unsure, "I think," and allowed David to escort me to the car that I still insisted on driving.
We stopped at Vons and I paced back and forth while David selected a carton of Epsom salt and carefully read the back of boxes containing pain patches and heat pads. "OW. Come on," I whined. David, sweet, dear, patient David, scooped up a few of the boxes and hurried through the check-out.
David looked left for me all the way home. When I turned to the right to look at him in the passenger seat, I could see my agony reflected in his face and wondered how much of his torment was from empathy and how much from simply having to put up with my histrionic suffering.
I frowned my way up the stairs, harrumphing with each step. Dr. Leo had also suggested I drink plenty of water; when I reached the bathroom, I paused to guzzle half of the bottle I'd picked up at Vons. David had already dimmed the lights and was seated on the side of the tub, his hand under the running water to gauge its temperature. "You're so good to me," I said.
Maintaining the dramatic spectacle of one whose every movement is torturous, I shed my clothing. I can't stand hot water. My showers are tepid at most. So when my toes dipped into the tub, I sucked and blew the air in quick, shallow breaths and I released my swan song of complaint for the day, a melodic, tapering mantra of "Owowowow! Ow. Oh. Ahhhh."
Once all but my head was submerged, I sighed with pleasure and looked at my blue-eyed savior, who was on his knees by the tub, using his hands to collect and drop a steady stream of hot salty water around my neck.
"What did I do to deserve you?" I asked.
"I'm still waiting to find out," David joked. I flicked my fingers in the tub to splash water on him and, laughing, he leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.